What Can You As a Parent Do for Your Children?
Please take the time to follow some simple steps below to help safeguard their Internet experience.
- Place your computer in the family room or another open area of your home. Or use the computer together at a library, school, or community center.
- Establish clear ground rules for Internet use for your kids. Decide whether or not to use parental control tools or protective software.
- Take the time to see what your kids are doing online and what their interests are.
- Teach kids never to give out their personal information to people they meet online especially in public places like chat rooms and bulletin boards.
- Tell your child not to respond when they receive offensive or dangerous email, chat, or other communications.
- Instruct your child never to plan a face-to-face meeting alone with online acquaintances.
What Are the Risks?
There are a few risks for children who use the Internet or online services. Teenagers are particularly at risk because they often use the computer unsupervised and because they are more likely than younger children to participate in online discussions regarding companionship, relationships, or sexual activity. If you have a teen in your family or you are a teenager, check out Teen Safety on the Information Highway by clicking here or order a free copy by calling 1-800-843-5678.
"Teenagers are particularly at risk because... they are more likely... to participate in online discussions regarding companionship..."
Exposure to Inappropriate Material
One risk is that a child may be exposed to inappropriate material that is sexual, hateful, or violent in nature, or encourages activities that are dangerous or illegal.
Another risk is that, while online, a child might provide information or arrange an encounter that could risk his or her safety or the safety of other family members. In a few cases, pedophiles have used email, bulletin boards, and chat areas to gain a child’s confidence and then arrange s face-to-face meeting.
A third risk is that a child might encounter email or chat/bulletin board messages that are harassing, demeaning, or belligerent.
Legal and Financial
There is also the risk that a child could do something that has negative legal or financial consequences such as giving out a parent’s credit card number or doing something that violates another person's rights. Legal issues aside, children should be taught good "netiquette" which means to avoid being rude, mean, or inconsiderate.
How Parents Can Reduce the Risks
While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement and supervision in their daily lives. The same general parenting skills that apply to the "real world" also apply while online.
If you have cause for concern about your children’s online activities, talk to them.
Also seek out the advice and counsel of teachers, librarians, and other Internet and online service users in your area.
Open communication with your children, utilization of such computer resources, and getting online yourself will help you obtain the full benefits of these systems and alert you to any potential problem that may occur with their use.
If your child tells you about an upsetting person or thing encountered while online, don't blame your child but help him or her avoid problems in the future. Remember - how you respond will determine whether they confide in you the next time they encounter a problem and how they learn to deal with problems on their own.
"While children need a certain amount of privacy, they also need parental involvement."
Beyond these basics, there are some specific things that you should know about the Internet. For instance, did you know that there are websites and newsgroups that have material that is hateful, is violent, or contains other types of material that parents might consider to be inappropriate for their children? It's possible for children to stumble across this type of material when doing a search using one of the websites that is specifically designed to help people find information on the Internet. Most of these sites (called "search engines") do not, by default, filter out material that might be inappropriate for children, but some offer a child-safe option and some are designed specifically for use by children.
Also the Internet contains websites, newsgroups, and other areas designed specifically for adults who wish to post, view, or read sexually explicit material including stories, pictures, and videos. Some of this material is posted on websites where there is an attempt to verify the user's age and/or a requirement for users to enter a credit card number on the presumption that children do not have access to credit card numbers. Other areas on the Internet make no such effort to control access. Nevertheless, consider monitoring your credit card bills for such charges.
Some online services and ISPs allow parents to limit their children's access to certain services and features such as adult-oriented websites and "chat" rooms and bulletin boards. There may be an area set aside just for kids where you don't have to worry about them stumbling onto inappropriate material or getting into an unsupervised chat.
At the very least, keep track of any files your children download to the computer, consider sharing an email account with your children to oversee their mail, and consider joining your children when they are in private chat areas.
"The best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing."
In addition, there are filtering features built into the popular Internet browsers (the software you use to access or telephone number. Click here for a directory of these filtering programs.
While technological child-protection tools are worth exploring, they're not a panacea. Regardless of whether you choose to use a filtering program or an Internet rating system, the best way to assure that your children are having positive online experiences is to stay in touch with what they are doing. One way to do this is to spend time with your children while they're online. Have them show you what they do, and ask them to teach you how to use the Internet or online service. You might be surprised at how much you can learn from your kids.
Guidelines for Parents
By taking responsibility for your children's online computer use, parents can greatly minimize any potential risks of being online. Make it a family rule to:
- Never give out identifying information - home address, school name, or telephone number - in a public message such as chat or bulletin boards (newsgroup), and be sure you're dealing with someone that both you and your child know and trust before giving out this information via email. Think carefully before revealing any personal information such as age, marital status, or financial information. Do not post photographs of your children on websites or newsgroups that are available to the public. Consider using a pseudonym, avoid listing your child's name and email address in any public directories and profiles, and find out about your ISP's privacy policies and exercise your options for how your personal information may be used.
- Get to know the Internet and any services your child uses. If you don't know how to log on, get your child to show you. Have your child show you what he or she does online, and become familiar with all the things that you can do online.
Never allow a child to arrange a face-to-face meeting with another computer user without parental permission. If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child. "If a meeting is arranged, make the first one in a public place, and be sure to accompany your child." Never respond to messages or bulletin board items that are suggestive, obscene, belligerent, threatening, or make you feel uncomfortable. Encourage your children to tell you if they encounter such messages. If you or your child receives a message that is harassing, of a sexual nature, or threatening, forward a copy of the message to your ISP, and ask for their assistance. Instruct your child not to click on any links that are contained in email from persons they don't know. Such links could lead to sexually explicit or otherwise inappropriate websites.
- If someone sends you or your children messages or images that are obscene, lewd, filthy, or indecent with the intent to harass, abuse, annoy, or threaten, or if you become aware of the transmission, use, or viewing of child pornography while online, immediately report this to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678. Remember that people online may not be who they seem. Because you can't see or even hear the person it would be easy for someone to misrepresent him- or herself. Thus, someone indicating that "she" is a "12-year-old girl" could in reality be a 40-year-old man.
- Remember that everything you read online may not be true. Any offer that's "too good to be true" probably is. Be very careful about any offers that involve you coming to a meeting, having someone visit your house, or sending money or credit card information.
Set reasonable rules and guidelines for computer use by your children. Discuss these rules and post them near the computer as a reminder. Remember to monitor your children's compliance with these rules, especially when it comes to the amount of time your children spend on the computer. A child's excessive use of online services or the Internet, especially late at night, may be a clue that there is a potential problem. Remember that personal computers and online services should not be used as electronic babysitters.
- Be sure to make this a family activity. Consider keeping the computer in a family room rather than the child's bedroom. Get to know their "online friends" just as you get to know all of their other friends.